By Paul Goldfinger
Eileen and I saw “Lincoln”—the movie— a few days ago. We went for a 7:00 p.m. showing and we got there early to get a good seat. When we walked into the theatre, no one was there but us. That was surprising; surely everyone wants to see this Steven Spielberg masterpiece starring Daniel Day-Lewis.
I really did not know what to expect, since I don’t read reviews before seeing a movie. But I had high hopes—which I always have for Spielberg’s work, especially since “Saving Private Ryan.”
And Daniel Day-Lewis has been a favorite of mine ever since “The Last of the Mohicans” when he played an 18th century white man living among the Indians. That marvelous film was also based on history. It opened, as many such movies do, with a bit of rolling background that you read in order to understand what-in-the world is going on as Hawkeye, Chingachgook and Uncas race through the woods of North Carolina. I’ve always liked voice-overs and written introductions to help understand the setting.
But “Lincoln”, a long dramatic film with a great deal of historical detail, gives no such preparation, and I found myself stunned and confused, right out of the starting gate.
Didn’t we learn in high school that the Civil War was about the defeat of slavery? Sure I read subsequently that it really was about economics or Southern culture, or other theories, but I always thought it was primarily about freeing the blacks.
This film is set in 1865 towards the end of the war and after the Emancipation Proclamation. It is mostly about Lincoln’s determination to get a Constitutional amendment passed (the 13th) before the North had to worry about Southern demands as part of a peace deal.
But what startled me was that Lincoln had trouble getting the House of Representatives to agree to the bill which had already passed the Senate. Could it be true that there were a large number of US Congressmen who could care less about abolishing slavery? Is it possible that the 13th amendment might have been defeated?
I watched the story played out on the screen, but it took me awhile to believe that this was not some sort of Oliver Stone rewriting of history. By the time I left the theatre, I was fantasizing hunting down my old high school history teachers and parading them down Park Avenue in Rutherford with signs that say, “I gave Goldfinger a lousy education.”
This is a superb film—fascinating and inspiring while, at the same time, teaching us about how unpredictable and miraculous our form of government is and was, even under the leadership of a great leader. The similarities between then and now regarding the workings of government are unmistakable, but these events only occurred about 150 years ago.
Don’t miss this movie, but please read some history before you buy a ticket.
And, if you want to dig into this subject in detail, click on this article from The Chronicle magazine :